Creatine for Runners: Boosting Performance and Endurance

Written by: Kat Austin

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Time to read 8 min

Creatine is a well-known supplement in the athletic community, primarily associated with muscle building and explosive power in sports like bodybuilding and weightlifting. However, its role in the world of running—particularly for endurance athletes—has been less clear.


While many runners are interested in creatine's potential to boost performance and aid recovery, there is some skepticism regarding its efficacy in endurance activities. This article will explore the benefits and drawbacks of creatine for runners, examining the scientific evidence and offering guidance for those considering this supplement.


Let’s jump right into it:

Key Takeaways

Creatine can improve performance for runners by boosting high-intensity power, increasing glycogen storage, and enhancing muscle recovery.

Sprinters and middle-distance runners may benefit most, while long-distance runners can use creatine to aid recovery and muscle repair.

The typical creatine dose for runners is 3-5 grams per day, with an optional loading phase of 20-25 grams daily for 5-7 days.

Consult a healthcare professional to ensure creatine is suitable for you, especially if you have preexisting health conditions that affect the liver, kidneys, or heart.

What Is Creatine?

Creatine is a nitrogen-containing organic compound found in creatine-rich foods such as red meat and fish. The body synthesizes creatine from amino acids in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas.


Once produced, creatine is transported to muscles, where it is stored as creatine phosphate. This stored creatine plays a crucial role in energy production during high-intensity exercise by helping to regenerate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary source of energy for muscle contractions.


While creatine has traditionally been used by athletes seeking muscle mass and strength gains, recent studies have examined its potential for aiding performance in running. The key question is whether creatine benefits for running exist across various distances and training styles.

Creatine's Role in Running Performance

Creatine is most commonly linked to high-intensity anaerobic activities, such as sprinting or heavy-weight training, where it contributes to the rapid regeneration of ATP. Runners participating in events that require bursts of speed or intense efforts—like the 100m, 200m, and 400m sprints—may find that creatine helps them improve power and delay fatigue in their fast-twitch muscle fibers.


Beyond sprinting, creatine has shown some potential in enhancing interval training, tempo runs, and even endurance running. It does this by increasing glycogen storage in muscles and supporting faster recovery after intense training.


A 2003 study in the Journal of Athletic Training found that creatine supplementation increased muscle glycogen content in runners, extending exercise duration and delaying glycogen depletion.


So now that we know that creatine indeed has potential benefits for runners, let's take a look at what it may bring to the table:

How Does Creatine Impact Running and Endurance Activities?


Although creatine is traditionally linked to anaerobic power, there is growing evidence that it can have positive effects on endurance activities like running. Here are some of the ways creatine might benefit endurance athletes:

Enhanced Glycogen Storage

Glycogen is crucial for sustained energy during moderate- to high-intensity exercise. Creatine can increase glycogen storage in muscles by stimulating insulin secretion, which facilitates the uptake of glucose into muscles.


This increased glycogen level may help to prolong exercise duration by delaying glycogen depletion, allowing runners to perform at higher intensity for longer.

Improved Recovery

Creatine's role in muscle recovery is another significant advantage. By reducing muscle inflammation and increasing protein synthesis, creatine helps runners recover more quickly after strenuous workouts. This increased recovery time can lead to greater training consistency and reduce the risk of overuse injuries.

Enhanced Resistance Training Adaptations

For runners who incorporate weight training into their routines, creatine can help improve strength gains. This improved strength can translate to better running economy and enhanced injury resilience, especially when combined with regular resistance training.

Creatine Dosage and Timing for Runners

When considering creatine supplementation, runners should be aware of the recommended dosage and timing to optimize benefits while minimizing side effects. Here's a general guideline:

Recommended Dosage


  • Loading Phase: A common approach involves a loading phase, with 20-25 grams of creatine monohydrate taken daily for 5-7 days. This is followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5 grams per day.

  • Maintenance Phase: Some runners opt to skip the loading phase and simply take 3-5 grams daily. This approach may be effective for long-term use without the initial water retention associated with loading.


Timing and Combination with Other Nutrients


  • Combining with Protein and Carbs: To enhance insulin release and creatine retention, taking creatine with a combination of carbohydrates and protein (e.g., a post-workout shake) is recommended.

  • Morning vs. Nighttime Use: Taking creatine in the morning can be convenient, as it aligns with daily routines and minimizes the potential for sleep disturbances. It can also provide energy for morning workouts.

    However, taking creatine at night might support muscle recovery during sleep, especially after evening workouts. If you find that creatine affects your sleep quality, consider taking it earlier in the day.

  • Before vs. After Exercise: Creatine can be taken before or after exercise. Taking it 30-60 minutes before a workout can give you an immediate energy boost, while taking it within an hour after exercise can aid muscle recovery and glycogen replenishment. 

    Some runners prefer post-exercise intake to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal discomfort.


Potential Side Effects of Creatine for Runners

Creatine is generally considered safe and well-tolerated by most people. However, there are some potential side effects and risks to be aware of:

Weight Gain and Water Retention

Creatine can cause water retention, leading to a slight increase in body weight (1-2 kg) within the first week of supplementation. This can benefit sprinters who need more power and muscle mass, but it might be undesirable for long-distance runners who prefer to keep their body weight low for optimal efficiency.


Keep in mind, however, that it is a myth that creatine causes significant weight gain or fat gain.

Gastrointestinal Discomfort

Some individuals may experience gastrointestinal issues like bloating, cramping, nausea, or diarrhea when taking creatine. To minimize this risk, start with a low dose and gradually increase it over time. Mixing creatine with plenty of water can also help prevent discomfort.

Dehydration and Cramps

Creatine's tendency to draw water into muscle cells can lead to dehydration or cramps if runners are not adequately hydrated. This is especially critical for endurance runners, who should maintain a high level of hydration.

Kidney or Liver Stress

While creatine is generally safe for the liver and kidneys in healthy individuals, those with existing problems should avoid it due to the risk of further kidney and liver dysfunction. High doses over prolonged periods might stress the kidneys and liver, so caution is advised.

Personalized Creatine Usage for Different Types of Runners


Creatine supplementation may not be suitable for every runner. Here's how different types of runners can approach creatine usage:

Sprinters

Sprinters, who rely on short bursts of energy, are most likely to benefit from creatine supplementation. They should follow a standard loading and maintenance protocol, monitoring body weight and hydration levels to avoid dehydration.=

Long-Distance Runners

Long-distance runners may not see the same direct benefits from creatine, but they might find it useful for enhancing glycogen storage and aiding recovery. A lower dose (2-3 grams per day) is often sufficient, and it should be taken after workouts to aid recovery.

Middle-Distance Runners

Middle-distance runners, who require a balance of power and endurance, might find creatine helpful for maintaining energy during tempo runs or intense workouts. They should stick to a moderate dose and monitor hydration and body weight.

Injury Recovery

Creatine's anti-inflammatory effects can be valuable for runners recovering from injuries. It might accelerate the return to running and support rehabilitation. However, consult a physical therapist or coach before using creatine during injury recovery.


How to Incorporate Creatine into Your Running Routine


If you decide to try creatine supplementation, consider the following steps:


  • Choose a Suitable Supplement: Creatine monohydrate is the most commonly used and well-researched form of creatine, but other forms exist, such as creatine hydrochloride (HCl), creatine ethyl ester, and buffered creatine. Vegan creatine supplements also exist for those who do not consume traditional animal-sourced creatine.

  • Start Low and Gradually Increase: Begin with lower "maintenance" doses of 2-5 grams per day to assess your tolerance and response. This approach minimizes the risk of side effects like dehydration or gastrointestinal discomfort.

  • Monitor Performance and Adjust Usage: Track your performance and progress to determine whether creatine is benefiting your running routine. If needed, adjust the dosage, timing, or cycling protocol based on your response and goals.

  • Cycle On and Off: Consider cycling creatine use, with periods of 4-8 weeks of supplementation followed by breaks. This approach can help maximize benefits while minimizing long-term risks.

  • Consult Professionals and Coaches: Before starting any supplement regimen, consult with a doctor, nutritionist, or coach to ensure creatine is safe and appropriate for you. They can help you determine the right dosage and timing based on your goals and individual needs.


Conclusion

Creatine offers potential benefits for runners seeking to boost performance, enhance recovery, and increase glycogen storage. However, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and individual responses can vary. While sprinters and middle-distance runners are more likely to see direct benefits, long-distance runners may also benefit from creatine's role in recovery and glycogen storage.


If you're considering creatine supplementation, ensure you follow recommended guidelines, consult with professionals, and monitor your response carefully. Proper usage and personalization can help you get the most out of creatine while avoiding potential side effects.


Ultimately, the key to incorporating creatine into your running routine is to approach it with an open mind, experiment, and adapt based on your specific goals and needs.





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Resources


  1. “Creatine Supplementation and Exercise Performance: A Brief Review” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3963244/

  2. “Potential of Creatine in Glucose Management and Diabetes” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915263/#:~:text=Creatine%20itself%20may%20stimulate%20insulin,glucose%20uptake%20and%20insulin%20sensitivity .

  3. “Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Catabolic Effects of Creatine Supplementation: A Brief Review” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8839648/

  4. “Creatine for Exercise and Sports Performance, with Recovery Considerations for Healthy Populations” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8228369/